Dear Darwin column: Free-range parenting gaining popularity |

Dear Darwin column: Free-range parenting gaining popularity

Robert Valko
VAIL CO, Colorado

Not only do Coloradans prefer free-range chicken, some of the state’s populous is even electing to raise their children free-range. Before we get to that padded-room topic though, if you’re not familiar with the government’s definition of free-range, you’ll take comfort in knowing that the Department of Agriculture defines ‘free-range’ birds as those with access to sprawling acres of majestic concrete. Really.

That’s right, folks. Some free-range chickens are granted the joy of pecking at each other on a slab of cement. (To be sure, green pastures are occasionally included in free-range environments.) In theory, this means that the free-range birds that we’re increasingly getting more and more background info on (from our restaurant waiters), could have been raised in a parking lot. And if you really want to probe a bird’s past, just ask your waiter for your bird’s 300 digit social security number. (The government is currently building a database of all chickens’ lives and allowing tax deductions for every egg in the household.) Once you have the number, simply enter it into the chicken-facts app on your ichick-phone. You can then run a complete background check on Chicken Little -do a background check on your dinner.

Now then, getting down to business. Is free-range parenting the way go?

I think not. I’m opposed to raising my progeny cage-free, as it might lead to questions about quantum theory and the ingredients of Kibbles and Bits from my 29 precious little savants (at last count). I keep them in an oversized sandbox down by the river. Don’t fret, the sandbox is fenced in by chicken wire – though I’m considering going cage-free. Their talents range from designing complex mathematical algorithms for flipping burgers to building Lego versions of the Taj Mahal, the size of a city block.

I’m actually thinking about letting them roam free on my sprawling 10-by-8-foot driveway. Running up and down the driveway all day should eliminate the need for artificial growth hormones, which I currently sprinkle on their s’mores, and which Lance Armstrong apparently sprinkled on his oatmeal.

Incidentally, I stumbled on a list of attributes found in children who are raised free-range:

1/4 saturated fat

2/3 more vitamin A

2 times more omega 3 fatty acids

7 times more beta carotene

Less early morning squawking

(You got me. In truth, most of the attributes above are found in free-range birds. The list compares to an absence of the same in non free-range birds. Hooray for concrete and Uncle Sam!)

While it’s not possible to fully know Lenore Skenazy’s motivation for spearheading the Who-knows-where-my-kids-are, last-I-heard-they-were-on-a-bus-to-Nicaragua Act, (the free-range parenting movement, which comes complete with the addendum: “Oh well, I’m sure they’ll text me at some point”), we might gain insight into her thinking by analyzing even more of her parental advice. She also suggests that it’s best to address parents’ concerns about poisoned Halloween candy with cookies. When some of her followers wrote in and asked for advice on how to deal with the reoccurring threat of tainted Halloween candy, her online prescription read, “The best way to fight Halloween paranoia is with cookies.” How odd, I’d have figured elves would be the first line of defense.

Alas, I must confess, that after reading further about Skenazy’s cookie advice, I learned that she suggests that bakers of homemade treats (like cookies) include their phone numbers with the treats, so that concerned parents can call and chat. This would take the terror out of oatmeal raisins. Incidentally, according to sociologist Joel Best at the University of Delaware, there has never been a case where a child has been poisoned by Halloween candy.

Email Eagle County resident Robert Valko with column ideas at

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